Steve Massar, manager of mechanical systems, stands next to the shark filtration system. 

What catches your eye when you gaze into a habitat at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre? Is it the brilliant fish? Is it the tiny triton snails on the glass, or is it the endless underwater twists and turns of the sea otters?

It’s easy to look past the liquid medium when you get lost in the beauty of an exhibit filled with African cichlids or mesmerized by the stunning pink and purple anemones in the Bella Bella habitat, but have you ever stopped and admired the surging currents or wondered who is responsible for all of that water?

The waters of Vancouver Aquarium

The bright fish and corals often distract from the real star of the show – water.

Circulating the water to over 50,000 individual animals living at the Vancouver Aquarium is no easy task. It is made possible by the team of mechanical systems operators; a dedicated group that most guests will never see during their visit. Some of these folks have worked at the Aquarium for 25 years, and others bring over 25 years of previous experience working with water systems. From pumps to filters, reservoirs to chilling units; the engineers are responsible for making sure that the water delivered to each habitat is exactly what that species needs. The right temperature, salinity, speed of the current and pH levels are all considered. As one mechanical system operator put it, “There is no other place that has a water system setup like an Aquarium.”

To help you picture the sheer volume of water, think about the size of your bathtub.  The average tub holds roughly 190 litres (50 gallons) of water. Typically you need to wait about eight minutes to fill your tub, but if you had taps with a flow as high as the Aquarium, you could fill your tub 32 times in one minute, or fill your tub once in just under two seconds (and that is just the saltwater)!

Seventy thousand animals also equals a lot of poop. Our engineers maintain a vast array of filters capable of filtering 1.2 million gallons per hour, which is about half of the volume of an Olympic size swimming pool cleaned per hour. To facilitate this and all of our life support mechanical systems, the Direct Digital Control System monitors the status of our systems at any time and can even be accessed remotely by the operators.

Vancouver Aquarium water management system.

It takes a team of engineers to keep things running smoothly behind the scenes at the Aquarium.

Thanks to the invaluable memory and historical knowledge that this team has, if you were to ask them a specific question about the path water takes through the system to a given habitat; I’m confident that their directions would be as clear as if you had asked them for directions to the nearest washroom.

Next time you stop by to visit your favourite sea creatures, take a moment to watch the water.  If you are lucky enough to see one of our elusive engineers, be sure to thank them for their unwavering commitment to the highest standard of water care.

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